I’ve Come To An Internet Epiphany

People are computing with devices like BlackBerrys and iPhones. They’re versatile bits of hardware without being all that powerful. Slowly but surely these smartphones have been pawning off the heavy lifting to ‘the cloud.’

Recently I’ve come to an Internet epiphany. Don’t worry about the word. I looked it up to make sure I was using it correctly.

An epiphany is a moment of sudden insight or understanding.

old_computer-pic.jpgI’d always thought as our use of the Internet progressed we’d need beefier hardware (aka more powerful computers) to get the job done. And certainly, that’s what the last few decades have shown us. Better computing experiences followed better hardware.

Recently there have been all sorts of changes to that conventional model. People are computing with devices like BlackBerrys and iPhones. They’re versatile bits of hardware without being all that powerful. Slowly but surely these smartphones have been pawning off the heavy lifting to ‘the cloud.’

Cloud computing means data travels the Internet and gets processed remotely. A Google search takes place in the cloud. My Gmail account lives there. So does the real work that enables the Dragon Dictation app for my iPhone. I downloaded the Siri app this weekend. That doesn’t fly without the cloud either.

This new era of cloud computing is only available because data pipes are fat. In a few years I may look back at the last sentence as a naive observation, but today we’ve got many multiples of what we had a few years ago. Most of us have all the bandwidth we think we need&#185.

When bandwidth and cloud computing are heavily involved the power of user hardware becomes less critical. Tablet computing like the iPad or tiny netbooks with weak processors survive because there’s less for them to do to get the job done. Most of the job is accomplished in the cloud.

In light of this Wednesday morning’s announcement from Google becomes strikingly important.

We’re planning to build and test ultra high-speed broadband networks in a small number of trial locations across the United States. We’ll deliver Internet speeds more than 100 times faster than what most Americans have access to today with 1 and gigabit per second, fiber-to-the-home connections

That much bandwidth and speed means cloud computing can lift even more weight while the user hardware becomes less critical.

Telcos and cable companies must be quaking in their boots. Certainly this kind of bandwidth can open up new communication devices and methods for delivering video and audio. Even Google who’s come up with the idea expects “uses we can’t yet imagine.”

Mass media has been turned upside down within the last decade by advances in computing. Which sector will pay the price now?

&#185 – In reality bandwidth is like closet space. There’s never enough.

Beware The Evil Screensaver

I want to get to work early – there are already thunderstorms on the radar, but I want to make mention of a little computer trouble I’ve been having lately. This way, maybe you won’t have to go through the same trouble.

It’s a computer I use at work. It’s constantly bringing in fresh data. It uses as large a pipeline for it’s raw info as the rest of the TV station combined!

We would notice from time-to-time this server would fall behind. But, as soon as we’d notice it, it would catch up and be back to normal in a matter of minutes.

Maybe it was doing this fall behind/catch up thing ’round the clock. We suspected as much, but didn’t know. All we knew was, anytime we started to look at it, the problem didn’t persist for long and we had fairly good tipoffs to tell us when to look.

No one at the vendor, or at the station, could figure out what was going on. We checked the local network (it is on a gigabit speed LAN) – nothing. We checked the incoming T1 data line – fine. The vendor looked at their servers upstream – nope.

Then today, while a service tech from the vendor was poking around, a “Eureka” moment&#185. I’ll pause ten seconds while you see if you can guess.


Our server had a very pretty screensaver (thankfully, installed by the vendor and not us). After a period of keyboard inactivity the screensaver would kick in painting pretty blue boxes on the screen.

The screensaver activity was so CPU intensive – so taxing – the server couldn’t do its real job! So, it would start pushing things back.

Here’s why it was so touch to pin down. When we’d go to look, the screensaver would stop. So within a few minutes of discovery the server would catch up. And, of course, it never fell behind while we were looking.

I can’t begin to tell you how frustrating this was. It was the bane of our existence. Now, it’s over… well I think it’s over.

I’ll let you know later if it’s not.

&#185 – eu